Can we use sounds to portrait someone? Can we paint using vibrating air to obtain a sound that represents something? What if sound could be used to design features belonging to other sensory spheres? Choosing a particular frequency could help to evocate a thin nose? A granular light? The fragrance of morning after a sunrise full of small rain? The taste of a coffee?
All these questions were contained in a reflection about abstract music sent to nine sound artists and they were asked to start from those question marks to reflect about the possible uses of sound as a representative media. The result are some very different sound portraits, from the biggest eruption of history captured in the drones of italian composer Elio Martusciello(ReR Megacorp) to the processed field recordings of the Mimerlaven mine in Norberg by the Nottingham based Flotel(Expanding), from the free jazz tones of the audio picture of his father in law by Autistici(12k,Kikapu) to the micro rhythms constructed on sounds captured from a Lomo camera by Maps and Diagrams(PAUSE_2,Smallfish,Cactus Island). The other artists who answered this unusual call are Lawrence English (Room40,Quatermass,Baskaru,Cronica), Salvatore Borrelli aka (etre)(Baskaru), He Can Jog(audiobulb,hippocamp), Gregg Kowalsky aka Ossobuco (Kranky, Nosordo) and Motion (12k,Fat Cat) who all gently took part in this challenge.
One of the latest offerings from Ukraine’s Nexsound label is made of an entirely different cloth (well, in fact the others are too, but we’ll get to that at another time). On the other hand, this is an trivial statement, considering the label considers their music ideally suited for private listening and stresses the fact that these sounds are meant to envelope the listener, rather than serve as aural wallpaper or to get a party started. “Vibrating Portraits” is yet another great example from their extensive discography of stylistically eclectic and conceptually ambitious works. While most people simply take it for granted, that a sound can appear to be “sweet”, a composition “dark” or “colourful” or a texture “granular”, Nexsound is interested in what factors are crucial when trying to emulate other senses with music. Their questions reach far beyond whether it is possible at all, focussing on aspects of philosophy, as well as concrete methods and tools. The lineup on “Vibrating Portraits” is impressive, ranging from 12k artists Autistici and Motion as well as Room40 label boss Lawrence English to Italian composer Elio Martusciello - and the approaches are consequently plentiful: While Gregg Kowalsky takes the sounds of a giant sealiner as his starting point, Martusciello approximates the 1912 eruption of Katmai, the largest volcano activity in North America for over 100 years. The results are hugely divergent: Kowalsky stays close to his source material, using it as an immediate reference point, but turning it into a billowing drone to describe the elegant majesty of the ship. Martusciello’s piece, on the other hand, is a programmatic, yet metaphoric work with rolling timpanis and staccato orchestra stabs amidst a fluent sea of complex inner movements. Contrasts between the various moods are equally disturbing: Lawrence English balances between harmonious undulation and perplexing madness, He Can Jog dig out their rhythm machines and go all soft and easy to sketch “Saint Paul” and (etre) go from spoken word to noise in their concisely titled “Reprocessing the voice between memory, drone-memory, frequency-memory as a painting”. Do these pieces serve to prove that music can deliver fully-fledged portraits? The answer is yes, even though there seems to be disagreement on whether it needs to lean towards concrete sounds rather than abstraction to achieve this. Or maybe everyone agrees that there are many different ways. In any case, it’s a rewarding compilation with plenty of food for thought.